I think my favourite chapter of any book is “When Wendy Grew Up” from Peter and Wendy (the original Peter Pan story by JM Barrie – you can read the whole book here). What comes before it – islands, mermaids, pirates, flying, fairies, “to die will be an awfully big adventure”, is all wonderful. But the last chapter changes everything. Here are my two favourite passages. If I’m ever able to read this without breaking down, then I am not me anymore and you can do what you want with her.
If you don’t remember, Wendy and the Lost Boys go home, and Peter promises to come back and take her to visit Neverland once each year…
She had looked forward to thrilling talks with him about old times, but new adventures had crowded the old ones from his mind.
“Who is Captain Hook?” he asked with interest when she spoke of the arch enemy.
“Don’t you remember,” she asked, amazed, “how you killed him and saved all our lives?”
“I forget them after I kill them,” he replied carelessly.
When she expressed a doubtful hope that Tinker Bell would be glad to see her he said, “Who is Tinker Bell?”
“O Peter,” she said, shocked; but even when she explained he could not remember.
“There are such a lot of them,” he said. “I expect she is no more.”
I expect he was right, for fairies don’t live long, but they are so little that a short time seems a good while to them.
Wendy was pained too to find that the past year was but as yesterday to Peter; it had seemed such a long year of waiting to her. But he was exactly as fascinating as ever, and they had a lovely spring cleaning in the little house on the tree tops.
Next year he did not come for her. She waited in a new frock because the old one simply would not meet; but he never came.
“Perhaps he is ill,” Michael said.
“You know he is never ill.”
Michael came close to her and whispered, with a shiver, “Perhaps there is no such person, Wendy!” and then Wendy would have cried if Michael had not been crying.
Peter came next spring cleaning; and the strange thing was that he never knew he had missed a year.
That was the last time the girl Wendy ever saw him. For a little longer she tried for his sake not to have growing pains; and she felt she was untrue to him when she got a prize for general knowledge. But the years came and went without bringing the careless boy; and when they met again Wendy was a married woman, and Peter was no more to her than a little dust in the box in which she had kept her toys. Wendy was grown up. You need not be sorry for her. She was one of the kind that likes to grow up. In the end she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than other girls.
And Wendy keeps on growing up, and has a daughter called Jane, and turns her old adventures into bedside stories.
“But, alas, he forgot all about me,” Wendy said it with a smile. She was as grown up as that.
“What did his crow sound like?” Jane asked one evening.
“It was like this,” Wendy said, trying to imitate Peter’s crow.
“No, it wasn’t,” Jane said gravely, “it was like this”; and she did it ever so much better than her mother.
Wendy was a little startled. “My darling, how can you know?”
“I often hear it when I am sleeping,” Jane said.
“Ah yes, many girls hear it when they are sleeping, but I was the only one who heard it awake.”
“Lucky you,” said Jane.
And then one night came the tragedy. It was the spring of the year, and the story had been told for the night, and Jane was now asleep in her bed. Wendy was sitting on the floor, very close to the fire, so as to see to darn, for there was no other light in the nursery; and while she sat darning she heard a crow. Then the window blew open as of old, and Peter dropped in on the floor.
He was exactly the same as ever, and Wendy saw at once that he still had all his first teeth.
He was a little boy, and she was grown up. She huddled by the fire not daring to move, helpless and guilty, a big woman.
“Hullo, Wendy,” he said, not noticing any difference, for he was thinking chiefly of himself; and in the dim light her white dress might have been the nightgown in which he had seen her first.
“Hullo, Peter,” she replied faintly, squeezing herself as small as possible. Something inside her was crying “Woman, Woman, let go of me.”
“Hullo, where is John?” he asked, suddenly missing the third bed.
“John is not here now,” she gasped.
“Is Michael asleep?” he asked, with a careless glance at Jane.
“Yes,” she answered; and now she felt that she was untrue to Jane as well as to Peter.
“That is not Michael,” she said quickly, lest a judgment should fall on her.
Peter looked. “Hullo, is it a new one?”
“Boy or girl?”
Now surely he would understand; but not a bit of it.
“Peter,” she said, faltering, “are you expecting me to fly away with you?”
“Of course; that is why I have come.” He added a little sternly, “Have you forgotten that this is spring cleaning time?”
She knew it was useless to say that he had let many spring cleaning times pass.
“I can’t come,” she said apologetically, “I have forgotten how to fly.”
“I’ll soon teach you again.”
“O Peter, don’t waste the fairy dust on me.”
She had risen; and now at last a fear assailed him. “What is it?” he cried, shrinking.
“I will turn up the light,” she said, “and then you can see for yourself.”
For almost the only time in his life that I know of, Peter was afraid. “Don’t turn up the light,” he cried.
She let her hands play in the hair of the tragic boy. She was not a little girl heart-broken about him; she was a grown woman smiling at it all, but they were wet eyed smiles.
Then she turned up the light, and Peter saw. He gave a cry of pain; and when the tall beautiful creature stooped to lift him in her arms he drew back sharply.
“What is it?” he cried again.
She had to tell him.
“I am old, Peter. I am ever so much more than twenty. I grew up long ago.”
“You promised not to!”
“I couldn’t help it. I am a married woman, Peter.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, and the little girl in the bed is my baby.”
“No, she’s not.”
But he supposed she was; and he took a step towards the sleeping child with his dagger upraised. Of course he did not strike. He sat down on the floor instead and sobbed; and Wendy did not know how to comfort him, though she could have done it so easily once. She was only a woman now, and she ran out of the room to try to think.
“Shall I tell you?” she said, looking into his face. “Shall I tell you what you have that other men don’t have, and that will make the future? Shall I tell you?”
“Tell me then,” he replied.
“It’s the courage of your own tenderness, that’s what it is: like when you put your hand on my tail and say I’ve got a pretty tail.”
“The grin came flickering on his face.
“That!” he said.
Been reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and thinking a lot about courage and tenderness. In the day to day, love can be hard to practice when you are alone. It all seems vague and it’s so easy to get distracted. But tenderness and courage,they seem a bit more at earth-and-hands level. If I could just learn those two things. I think it would all be alright.
Each week, another layer becomes necessary… scarves, then gloves, then hats. Each day, the BBC predicts snow and then quietly rainchecks it for 24 hours later. I’ve spent the weekend in bed, thankful for my orange walls and red wardrobe. Everything feels cosier in here. I’ve already sorted a local cafe (with thick slabs of rich chocolate brownie and good coffee) just around the corner, and there’s a gastro pub offering fine beer and burgers right beneath my house. In short – leaving the house something proper is losing its appeal.
Winter has me wishing for…
Dreams come true…
I’m thankful for the lovely winter treats already in my life.
Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan, a strange and lovely picture book to read in bed.
My red original Hunters wellies. I am not terribly excited about the impending snow, although I’m sure it will be very pretty for a while. But these will get me through it. They are totally puddle-jumping, snow-drift-diving boots. And also worn by Emily Zak of British Vogue, I hope I can incorporate them into my outfits with similar panache!
Warmly yours, S&S x
Been reading Door Wide Open and loving it hard. It’s a collection of letters between a restless Jack Kerouac at 35, with On The Road written years earlier but not yet published, and his 21 year old girlfriend Joyce Glassman, working on her first novel and exploring the beat scene in New York. Joyce (now Johnston) edited this book recently, and in her frequent interjections gives context to everything, explains the untruths and unsayable things the letters are skimming around. While it’s amazing to see Kerouac’s charisma shine through his letters, it’s definitely not all about him – I can’t get over how smart and brave and clear-v0iced Glassman was at 21, choosing to walk away from respectable society in the 1950s, pre-feminism , pre-free love. Here’s one of my favourite excerpts, from a letter Joyce wrote to Jack:
July 26 1957
… But then I remember walking with you at night through the Brooklyn docks and seeing the white steam rising from the ships against the black sky and how beautiful it was and I’d never seen it before – imagine! – but if I’d walked through it with anyone else, I wouldn’t have seen it either, because I wouldn’t have felt safe in what my mother would categorically call “a bad neighborhood,” I would have been thinking “Where’s the subway?” and missed everything. But with you – I felt as though nothing could touch me, and if anything happened, the Hell with it. You don’t know what narrow lives girls have, how few real adventures there are for them; misadventures, yes, like abortions and little men following them in subways, but seldom anything like seeing ships at night. So that’s why we’ve all taken off like this, and that’s also part of why I love you.”
I’ve come home to focus on quieter and more thoughtful things. Life essentials. Family and food,reading and learning, sleeping and health. To try and be more good. Balanced, patient, peaceful.
And deep down, it seems that maybe I’m not ready for that, because the first book I chose at the libary was Casanova: or the Art of Happiness. And of course I have fallen In Love with the scoundrel, and his joy in the moment and delight in turning unknown situations to his advantage through sheer force of charm. Somehow he, and his lovers, seem to just choose to take the pleasure and refuse to feel any pain at its end or loss.
I don’t know that I could ever be like that, but I would like more adventures. This is having a somewhat shambolic effect on all my previous good intentions.
After years galavanting across Europe freely,bouncing between riches and poverty, Casanova ended his years as a librarian in a Bohemian castle, warding off his boredom by writing a 12 volume history of his exploits. Below is a quote on this time from the book I’m reading, that made me cry a little:
Casanova does not draw up a catalogue of his beauties. He does not love all women, he loves one woman at a time, each for her uniqueness. He does not count or enumerate them on a cold list of conquest, or a sinister hunter’s log. He remembers them with emotion. Their charms seem to be affecting him again. From a distance, through the passage of time, and sometimes beyond death, the memories of the women he loved remain intact within him. We sense the artist ready to surrender to his model. What would the old man not give to see one of them escape alive ffrom his pages and join him in his sad exile!
After having desired and loved them, Casanova puts his lovers tenderly to rest on the page. It is his way of being faithful to them forever. The inconstant lover gives his lovers immortality.
“A library is a place where you can lose your innocence without losing your virginity.” Germaine Greer
This picture was sent to me by a dear friend. It looks like a Dutch oil painting, and I love the muted colours and rich fabrics. It’s actually a still from the 1979 film Nosferatu the Vampyre, which is a shame because I will probably never be brave enough to watch it.
“She loved the sea for its storms alone, cared for vegetation only when it grew here and there among ruins. She had to extract a kind of personal advantage from things and she rejected as useless everything that promised no immediate gratification — for her temperament was more sentimental than artistic, and what she was looking for was emotions, not scenery.”
“Deep down, all the while, she was waiting for something to happen. Like a sailor in distress, she kept casting desperate glances over the solitary waster of her life, seeking some white sail in the distant mists of the horizon. She had no idea by what wind it would reach her, toward what shore it would bear her, or what kind of craft it would be – tiny boat or towering vessel, laden with heartbreaks or filled to the gunwales with rapture. But every morning when she awoke she hoped that today would be the day; she listened for every sound, gave sudden starts, was surprised when nothing happened; and then, sadder with each succeeding sunset, she longed for tomorrow.”
Both quotes from Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert.
‘Protect Me’ Ring by Zoe & Morgan
I’ve started reading Agatha Christie! I love that I can zip through them quickly, it’s been so long since I read a book that was mostly about plot. However, it’s not all smooth. The first one I took home was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – which I randomly picked off the library shelf, but it turns out of all her 80 detective novels, that’s ‘the masterpiece’ with the big shock twist. So it was great, but it would have been much better if I’d already read a few mysteries – watching the rules get smashed unexpectedly is much more fun if you know what the rules are.
And then last night I picked up Murder Under The Sun and just could not put it down. Not just because it was good, but because I had that sudden awful knowledge that I would feel massively uneasy until I knew whodunnit. Like, unable to sleep, uneasy. So not fun. So while I’d meant to read a couple of chapters in bed, I had to force myself to push right through the final half of the book. It was a late night. I’m not sure I have the steeliness of spirit for murder mysteries… and this is patent proof that I will never be reading for ghost tales.
Oh, and Agatha Christie herself is so interesting:
“During the Second World War, Christie wrote two novels, Curtain and Sleeping Murder, intended as the last cases of these two great detectives, Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple, respectively. Both books were sealed in a bank vault for over thirty years, and were released for publication by Christie only at the end of her life, when she realized that she could not write any more novels. These publications came on the heels of the success of the film version of Murder on the Orient Express in 1974.” From Wikipedia
Whenever I end up reading accidentally about Prince Charles I get so sad for some reason. (Somehow I ended up at the Wikipedia page for Lord Mountbatten’s mentorship of said Prince.)